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Student Recruitment: what should universities be focusing on in these times of uncertainty?

Competition to recruit a student  is fierce at the best of times as universities strive to hit their increasingly ambitious student recruitment targets. But in the current climate – with the pool of would-be undergraduate students predicted to be smaller due to the coronavirus pandemic – focusing on the most effective ways to drive applicants and convert them to enrolment is crucial.

In a recent survey of Tribal customers, 92% listed ‘Student Recruitment’ as a top priority for 2020, and from conversations with these customers, here’s a summary of what they will be focusing on in the short term, as well as the longer term.

Discover how you can still meet your 2020 student recruitment targets in our webinar recording

Overcoming the additional pressures from Covid-19

  • Student recruitment:
    Grade allocation uncertainty – still awaiting an official announcement on how universities will be expected to deal with the “Calculated grade allocation”, its not yet known whether clearing is likely to happen. If students achieve their predicted grades, clearing (typically an exercise that helps significantly towards recruitment targets) is unlikely to happen. Being as flexible as possible to adapt to and accommodate new ways of recruiting has never been more important.
    Possibility of lowering entry requirements – some institutions may be considering lowering entry requirements or switching to unconditional offers to “scoop up” as many students as possible. However, its worth noting that when this has happened in previous years, the knock on effect on retention is that students who did not hit the original minimum entry requirements were likely to drop out before moving into year two. Only making offers that are in the best interest of the student and adequately supporting them through their first year will be the key to avoiding the same outcome in 2021.
    Travel restrictions for international students - international student recruitment markets are currently under significant pressure. There are very real concerns that students will not be allowed or will be unwilling to travel to the countries they would prefer to study in. The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic, means international student applications and enrolments in countries that have been most affected by the virus are likely to be significantly lower than usual. So competition in this financially rewarding segment of the student market will be higher than ever, meaning the universities will need to work hard to appeal to overseas applicants.
  • Improving student retention
    Demands for refunds – hundreds of thousands of students have been demanding tuition fee refunds, demonstrating that students already feel they are no longer getting value for money from their university education. Add to this the fact that many student landlords are pursuing ongoing room rents, and there is a risk that universities will struggle to retain students through this academic year and into the next. Whilst mitigating this risk will require a cohesive strategy – in the meantime, many universities are concentrating on making learning as accessible as possible to their students and supporting them in their studies.
    International students dropping out – there have been some shocking reports within international student recruitment of growing resentment towards overseas students due to the general public being concerned about international travel spreading the virus. Universities will need to ensure they provide additional welcoming support to international students to retain these students through this time.

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Plans designed to mitigate the additional risks that Covid-19 presents to hitting retention targets will vary from university to university. Some universities that rely on overseas students may be reviewing their business model entirely. Other institutions that have the right technology in place may look to extend their reach into other markets – such as short courses for the local community, or attracting more mature students by providing an “OU” experience.

Whatever the short term approach, at the core of any student recruitment strategy is a desire to nurture long lasting relationships with students from application through enrolment, graduation and alumni. And that takes a holistic approach to student experience enabled by the right technology.

Overcoming every-day challenges with student recruitment and student retention

  • Limited recruitment resources – the resources available for managing student recruitment are always limited and this is a key driver for universities adopting a CRM for student management as their student recruitment solution to improve prospect capture, streamline enquiry management, and respond quickly and consistently via email and live web chat. Monitoring the effectiveness of this activity is also much easier with a CRM solution that provides granular detail on conversion metrics and ROI on recruitment/marketing spend.
  • Convincing offer holders to enrol – integral to any student recruitment campaign is to ensure the university stands out at offer stage so that applicants with multiple offers choose your university. This requires good brand awareness along with targeted and personalised communications that excite and engage the applicant (inviting offer holders to events etc. when lockdown measures are lifted.) Again, CRM student recruitment software and solutions are transforming the way that universities ‘keep in touch’ with their applicants and offer holders.
  • Providing support through the student lifecycle – when they have enrolled, ensuring that a student knows they can access support when they need it is critical to them completing their course. Having solid pastoral care and student welfare processes in place and making it easy for the student to access this help is proven to increase student retention. Universities that have deployed student welfare portal technology are now benefitting from enabling students to readily access support from the student welfare team, without having to physically visit the team.
  • Balancing online learning alongside face-to-face lectures – over the past decade, education institutions have responded well to delivering their courses online, but feedback tells us that students still prefer the experience of attending university. Whilst technology is making it increasingly easier to deliver quality learning online, getting the balance of learning right is key to both attracting students to the university (particularly in the current climate) and retaining them thereafter.

Despite the fact that many of these tactics will need to be adapted in the short term – for example, where social distancing measures prevent traditional ‘keep in touch’ methods – armed with the right technology many recruitment teams are feeling empowered to implement creative ways to nurture relationships with applicants and offer holders. And customers who use Dynamics 365 as their student recruitment solution are finding that they are fully equipped to:

  • Improve the institutions enquiry handling 
  • Understand each prospect better 
  • Deliver more personalised marketing content thanks to more granular targeting of prospects 
  • Generate and deliver consistently branded and personalised marketing content across multiple channels (email, web chat, SMS, social etc.) 
  • Accurately evaluate ROI on marketing spend
  • And most crucially of all, improve recruitment campaign performance and conversion rates.

Are you looking for smart ways to improve the effectiveness of your marketing strategy for student recruitment? Access our latest student recruitment webinar, Dynamics Accelerate: Marketing and Student Recruitment.

Student support and wellbeing recording